Is It Illegal to Draw On Money? [ACTUAL Answer]


Have you ever received a bill back in your change and someone has drawn on it?

We might not see it as much these days since Canadian bills are made of plastic now, but once upon a time, Canadian bills were made of paper.

Did you ever wonder if it is illegal to draw on money? You’re definitely not the only one wondering this so let’s break down what the actual laws are. 

In Canada, it is in fact not illegal to draw on Canadian-issued bank notes. You might find this strange, but there is no law in the Criminal Code of Canada against writing on any of our official currencies.

Of course, this isn’t a recommendation from us to go draw on all of your money, but if you do come across a doodle on your bills, no laws were broken.

Remember that we’re talking about Canadian laws here and not the currency laws in any other country. In this article, we’re only concerned about Canadian banknotes and coins. Are you curious about why drawing on money in Canada is not illegal? Read on as we provide you with all of the answers!

Is it Illegal to Draw on Money?

As I’ve already answered, in Canada it is not against the law to draw on our bills. The Criminal Code of Canada does not specify writing on banknotes is an illegal offense. It is, however, illegal to destroy or alter money and this includes both coins and banknotes. 

You might be wondering, “well isn’t drawing on a bill altering it?” It’s a good question but evidently, this is not enough of an alteration to be deemed unusable as a currency. As long as you can still see that it is an official and legally issued bill, most establishments and banks will still accept it as legal tender. 

In that same vein, it isn’t illegal to draw on Canadian coins either. Drawing on coins isn’t as common, but if you do find a loonie or a toonie that has been colored on, you can still use it to buy things in Canada! 

What is the Penalty for Writing on Money?

In Canada, there is no penalty for writing on money because it is not considered an illegal act according to our Criminal Code. Could you get in trouble for writing on bills? Sure, you might get a slap on the wrist if a police officer actively caught you doing it, but in terms of a penalty like a fine or jail, it is not enforceable. 

Now, there might be some supplemental penalties for defacing money that might not necessarily be criminal punishments. For example, if you decide to draw on a banknote and use it at a store, they could very well refuse your money.

Even though it is still considered legal tender, a store is not obligated to accept any payment if they deem it unsuitable. This includes bills that are drawn on, ripped or coins that are bent or altered. 

As you can imagine, that would be a penalty in its own right. Not only would you not be able to make your purchase but if it’s not accepted anywhere, you might have just lost twenty dollars for no reason. Just because it’s not illegal, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a penalty for drawing on the money!

Can You Write on Money and Still Use It?

As I mentioned previously, this is completely up to the store and their customer policy. There are ways to still check the authenticity of the bill, but even if it is a legal bill the store could still refuse to accept it. Your best bet, in this case, is to take the bill to a bank and exchange it for a clean bill or deposit it into your bank account and withdraw some new bills.

There could be other places where you might have problems using a drawn-on bill as well. Things like vending machines use scanners to determine the authenticity of the banknote. If the scan isn’t readable, then the drawing might prevent you from getting a much-needed snack! 

Ultimately it is up to the store if they will accept the bill or not. More often than not, stores will likely accept your money if it is still recognizable as a Canadian bill. If you’re going to doodle on your Canadian bills, then at least minimize it so that a store can still recognize what it is.

Is it Illegal to Draw on Money in Canada?

So to recap, in Canada it is not illegal to draw on coins or bills. In other countries, things are a little different.

In the United States, it is absolutely considered illegal to draw on money. You can be charged with a crime called currency defacement which is actually in the United States legal code.

The actual quoted description of the charge reads as follows: 

“Whoever mutilates, cuts, defaces, disfigures, or perforates, or unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt issued by any national banking association, or Federal Reserve bank, or the Federal Reserve System, with intent to render such bank bill, draft, note, or other evidence of debt unfit to be reissued shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”

Of course, it comes down to arguing the intent to render the bank bill, but at this point, you’re splitting hairs. I wouldn’t take that risk, especially in the US where there is an actual penalty for defacing currencies. 

Related Financial Geek Article: Is It a Crime and Illegal to Burn Money in the US?

The Bottom Line: Is it Illegal to Draw on Money?

In Canada, it isn’t, but that still doesn’t mean you should. Besides, given that Canada’s bills are all plastic now it’s nearly eliminated writing on them. Back in the day when all our bills were paper, like in the US, we certainly saw a lot more doodles on our banknotes.

Even if you do manage to draw on your Canadian bills, don’t worry, it’s not a criminal offense in this country!

Geek, out.

Noel

Noel is the founder and main contributor for his blog - Noel's passion for personal finance has helped him amass over 600k readers to his Financial Geek blog.

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